The hostage-takers: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. | J. Scott Applewhite / AP
In the name of protecting corporations and billionaires from fair taxes, two corporate Democrats are holding the fate of America’s families—from seniors to children—in their hands.
The budget reconciliation bill now being held hostage by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema would make it possible for every kid in the United States to go to pre-school. It would provide families with $300 a month for each child. It would fund two years of community college for every student. And it would expand Medicare to cover glasses, dental work, and hearing aids. It would provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It would pay for measures to combat climate change, such as retrofit credits and a Civilian Climate Corps.
The Build Back Better Act is also “a jobs bill for the future,” according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Civilian Climate Corps alone would open up 1.5 million jobs, and hundreds of thousands of new care workers and educators will be employed.
Build Back Better would pay for all this by reversing the tax cuts and giveaways that Trump and the Republican Party handed out to corporations and the richest 1% in 2017.
Polls show well over 70% of the American people back such measures. But there are powerful forces lined up against letting this bill ever become law. Sen. Bernie Sanders has eloquently pinpointed them: “Big Oil, Big Pharma, and the corporate titans who dominate our political system.”
These elements of the ruling class can always rely on the Republican Party and its leaders to oppose any and all increases of corporate taxes, but due to the 50-50 split in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and his cabal can’t, on their own, defeat the Build Back Better Act.
That’s why it all comes down to holding the senators and representatives elected on the Democratic Party platform together in this fight and not losing a single vote. This is where Manchin and Sinema enter the picture. They claim to be experiencing “sticker shock” over the reconciliation bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag and say cuts are a must.
Few these days mention the fact that the bill now under consideration is already a “compromise” from the $6.5 trillion that progressive lawmakers were originally proposing. Fewer still do the math and point out that the true annual cost of the Build Back Better Act—when you stretch out its total over the ten years it covers—is just $350 billion. That’s only one-third of what the United States spends on its military and war budgets each year.
Manchin and Sinema were elected to represent millions of West Virginians and Arizonans. But ask them exactly which workers or groups of poor people they want to screw with their cuts and you’ll get few answers. But let’s take a look at their actions—and their campaign bank account deposits—to see whom they really represent.
Manchin is supposed to be working for the people of West Virginia, but he made $500,000 in 2020 from dividends from his son’s coal company—three times more than his Senate salary. ExxonMobil, Tellurian Gas, and other energy giants have showered him with hundreds of thousands in political contributions. And his daughter’s pharma company, Mylan (the folks who hiked the price of EpiPen medication from $124 to $609), also sent a few hundred thousand dollars the senator’s way.
As for Sinema, she’s even more openly corrupt. As the bill which would benefit millions of Americans nears a vote, she scheduled a fundraiser this week with some of the biggest corporate lobbyists opposing it. She’s charging them as much as $5,800 per person for 45 minutes of her time.
The big-money influence machines are pulling out all the stops to block tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, and Manchin and Sinema are out to earn their political dollars.
President Biden is reportedly applying pressure on these mis-labeled “moderates” in an attempt to preserve as much of the Build Back Better Act as possible. It’s named for his 2020 campaign slogan and would, without a doubt, be the biggest legacy of his presidency if passed.
But without pressure from the outside, the instincts of Biden and the Democratic Party leadership will be to “compromise” with Manchin and Sinema in the hopes of passing something… anything, really.
That’s why Congress has to be hammered with phone calls, petitions, texts, lobbying visits, and protests demanding that the reconciliation bill be passed as is with no further cuts. The Poor People’s Campaign is leading the charge, with its constant demonstrations, open letters, and public awareness events.
Every reader and supporter of People’s World has to step forward now and help hold the line.
If this bill doesn’t pass, there won’t be another chance to achieve such far-reaching change anytime soon. The working class of this country will have lost out to the big wallets of the corporate class and their paid voices in the Senate. As Rev. William Barber has said, “This is no game for poor and low-wage people.”
Furthermore, the Republicans will use this failure to paint Biden as a weak leader and the Democrats as a divided party incapable of governing. Connect that message with the rampant and racist Republican voter suppression efforts around the country and you’ve got a formula for disaster in 2022, 2024, and far beyond.
The time to act is now. Save the Build Back Better Act.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles and waves as she departs the Capitol in Washington. Back in her home state of Arizona, her efforts to sabotage the Build Back Better Act aren’t eliciting many smiles. | Jose Luis Magana / AP
WASHINGTON—With Democratic President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better progressive agenda hanging in the balance in Congress, D.C.’s attention has focused on one of the two key and openly hostile Senate Democrats, West Virginian Joe Manchin. The other, Arizonan Krysten Sinema, is now emerging, however, as likely the biggest threat to the president’s agenda. Corporate donors are rewarding her with checks for thousands of dollars as she turns a deaf ear to pleas from President Biden who has spent hours meeting with her.
Her constituents in Arizona are moving to try to pressure her into ceasing her hostility to the people who sent her to Washington to represent them. There, the state’s Democratic central committee voted 415-99 on Sept. 25 for a “no confidence” resolution against Sinema for the right wing stand she has taken. It was progressives’ second such attempt to pass sucxh a resolution in two years. Committee leaders sidetracked the first, criticizing her votes for right-wing Donald Trump-named judicial ideologues, the year before. The committee didn’t cut her any slack this time, though.
“We all are facing a critical crossroads and nothing less than our democracy is at stake,” the resolution declared.
Democrats could lose
“All indicators show Democrats could lose both the House and Senate in 2022 if we do not ‘deliver the goods’ by passing voting rights, healthcare, Medicare expansion, two-year free college funding, immigration reform, specifically a path to citizenship for Dreamers, labor rights, green jobs, climate emergency/environmental protection legislation and more,” the successful no confidence resolution against Sinema stated.
The resolution adds “the clear implication” Sinema could lose party backing when she seeks re-election in 2024, if she continues her obstruction.
The party resolution also demands Sinema abandon her defense of the filibuster, the racist-inspired Senate rule which lets a 41-lawmaker minority—in this Senate, all Republicans–block anything and everything. Manchin still supports the filibuster, too.
And there are other similarities between the two stubborn senators, who are key votes in the evenly split Senate:
Like Manchin, Sinema says the $3.5 trillion complex Build Back Better bill, which breaks down to an average of $350 billion per year over a decade, is too big. Also like Manchin, she won’t specify what she wants to cut from it.
That’s because its programs, such as expanding Medicare to cover vision, dental and hearing treatment, letting Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices down, making paid family and medical leave permanent, extending the child care tax credit and funding projects to combat climate change—an issue raging in Arizona along with western forest fires—are all popular back home.
Also popular, at least in rallies outside Sinema’s offices, are how Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and congressional Democrats will pay for their ideas. They include tax hikes on corporations and the rich, higher taxes on oil and natural gas extraction companies, much higher fines against labor law-breakers, and extending those fines to more offenses against workers seeking to unionize and protect themselves against corporate greed.
Like Manchin, Sinema isn’t up for re-election until 2024, and most voters have short memories. But unlike Manchin, she should be listening to both sides of the political spectrum. Manchin, at least, may have a political excuse for ignoring progressive pressure.
Arizona is a red-turning-purple state. Biden won it last year, the first Democrat to do so in two decades, though it was trending Democratic even before 2020. Arizona’s congressional delegation is split. Fellow Sen. Mark Kelly (D), an ex-astronaut and husband of venerated former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), appears to be coasting towards 2022 re-election. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Republicans are at war with each other over who shows the most fealty to former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump.
Now deep red
Manchin’s West Virginia is now deep red and GOP-gerrymandered. He’s the only statewide Democratic officeholder and its only congressional Democrat. And Trump carried the Mountaineer State in 2020 by 39 percentage points over Biden.
Like Manchin, Sinema has close ties to, and raises big money from, corporate lobbies. Of the $27 million, cumulative, she’s raised for campaigns, starting with her first U.S. Senate race in 2017-18, $1.716 million was from officers, lobbyists and campaign finance committees of banks and securities firms, OpenSecrets.org reported. Sinema sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which writes legislation affecting those industries.
All this has led progressives, notably the Working Families Party’s Arizona affiliate, Indivisible.org, the Just Democracy Coalition of 40 Black and brown groups, the Arizona Coalition for Change, and Arizonans for Gun Safety, to turn up the heat on Sinema at home. So has the Arizona branch of the Poor People’s Campaign.
WFP is running an ad blitz to push Sinema to both back Build Back Better and to vote to kill the filibuster. “Just this morning, Politicoreported Kyrsten Sinema issued an ‘ultimatum’ to Joe Biden and is threatening to tank our entire agenda along with other obstructionist corporate Democrats in the House,” the group reported.1
“She’s standing with her campaign donors instead of Arizona working families who would lose out if she follows through with her threats. That’s why, starting today, we’re placing a digital ad buy targeting Arizona voters with a simple message: “Kyrsten, stop the games and VOTE YES to Build Back Better.” (their emphasis).
WFP also states that in her first Senate campaign, Sinema pledged to fight to lower prescription drug prices, a key issue for Arizona’s huge population of senior citizens, who vote in higher proportions than other groups. But in ensuing years, she’s taken $750,000 in individual and corporate campaign finance funds from Big Pharma. And Big Pharma benefits if Biden’s Build Back Better bill goes down, WFP explains.
In July, the Poor People’s Campaign held a peaceful civil disobedience sit-in at Sinema’s Phoenix office, also to push domestic spending, ending the filibuster and strengthening voting rights. Police arrested campaign co-chair, the Rev. William Barber II, veteran civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson and 37 other people.
“Call Sen. Sinema and tell her to start fighting for our communities,” Just Democracy appeals in a video, then flashing Sinema’s picture and her D.C. office phone, (202) 224-4521, on screen.
“We need Congress to deliver an infrastructure package that meets the scale of the crises we face and makes sure every single one of us has what we need to thrive. Help us show Sinema that it’s time to be BOLD!” Just Democracy added in a facebook post announcing a demonstration-press conference-dance party outside her Phoenix office on Sept. 21.
“I’m one of Sen. Sinema’s constituents, and we have made our demands loud and clear,” Channel Powe of Just Democracy added in another post.
“We want her to represent ‘We the people,’ not the interests of corporations and Republicans who are attempting to undercut Black and Brown communities at every turn. Voting rights, reproductive justice, a pathway to citizenship, and a thriving economy all hinge on the elimination of the Jim Crow filibuster. “Sen. Sinema has one option, to either step in to save our democracy or allow it to crumble. History’s eyes will be upon her.”
Author: Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
All revolutionary processes are educational. From organizing meetings and study groups to writing protest speeches and propaganda before the revolutionary moment to creating new revolutionary educational and cultural institutions and training teachers and specialists after the seizure of power, revolution is educational through and through. Yet exactly what kind of educational operations does revolution entail, and how can we understand and practice them?
It is precisely these questions that Paulo Freire addressed in his classic work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
It is precisely these questions that Paulo Freire addressed in his classic work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
One hundred years after his birth in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Freire’s name is widely recognized and, relatively speaking, so too is his canonical text. Yet the book is referenced or discussed more than it is deeply engaged. This is particularly evident when Freire’s work is severed from its revolutionary Marxist orientation .
While it’s often taken as an abstract guide-book for how to teach, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is really a theoretical reflection on his own experiences teaching peasants how to read and write, a theory he extends to revolutionary movements, leadership, and organization. After spending 70 days in prison for “treachery” [teaching poor peasants to read and write], he was exiled from Brazil following the military junta in 1964. He eventually settled in Chile, which is where he wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The book has been targeted by the right wing in the U.S. (it is currently banned from public schools in Arizona). It addresses the educational components of revolutionary movements and, as such, it is littered with references to Marx, Lenin, Fanon, and others. Specifically, the book is concerned with how the revolutionary leadership pushes the struggle forward, or how it teaches and learns from the masses in struggle.
The pedagogies of oppression and liberation
The pedagogy of the oppressed has two stages. During the first stage, “the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through praxis commit themselves to its transformation.” During the second stage, which is after the world of oppression has been transformed, “this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation” .
The first stage addresses how the oppressed view and relate to the world. It begins by acknowledging that the oppressed possess both an oppressed consciousness and an oppressor consciousness. The oppressor consciousness is the enemy that needs to be liquidated: “The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time—everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal” .
This is what capitalism does: it takes everything and makes it into private property, including our ability to labor. This has a profound impact on the world, even instilling the oppressor consciousness in the oppressed. Thus, we have to distinguish an oppressor consciousness from the oppressed person, and we have to transform that consciousness.
The way that we engage in that transformation is absolutely crucial, and this is where the question of pedagogy comes into play. Freire calls the traditional form of pedagogy “banking pedagogy.” In banking pedagogy, the teacher is the one who possesses knowledge and the students are empty containers in which the teacher must deposit knowledge. The more the teacher fills the receptacle, the better teacher she is. The content remains abstract to the student, disconnected from the world, and external to the student’s life. Banking pedagogy—which is what most of us in the U.S. experience—assumes that the oppressed are ignorant and naïve. Further, it treats the oppressed as objects in the same way that capitalism does.
For Freire, education must be rooted in the daily lives and experiences of students, who are subjects rather than objects. The correct educational method for revolutionaries is dialogue, which means something very specific. To truly engage in dialogue means becoming partners with the people. In this situation, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow” . This process is referred to as conscientização, or coming-to-critical-consciousness.
A decisive element to the location and direction of conscientização is the pedagogical relationship. This relates to Freire’s critique of the banking model of education and to his reconception of the teacher-student relationship. The dialogic model is a relationship between teacher and student, one which is more—but, and this is absolutely crucial, not completely—horizontal. In this schema, “people teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are “owned” by the teacher . The teacher does not relinquish authority or power, as if that was even possible. Instead, the teacher takes responsibility for producing new critical knowledge of reality with the student.
While the pedagogical relationship and process are important parts of Freire’s thought, they have tended to be isolated from Freire’s ideological commitments and have come to stand in for Freire’s entire work. As a graduate student in a fairly critical school of education, I was only assigned the first two chapters of the book, and I’m convinced this is common practice. These chapters are rich; they’re where he denounces banking pedagogy and formulates dialogical pedagogy in response. When we stop here, however, we don’t discover the reason why he bothered writing the book in the first place.
By selectively reading the book, Freire’s dialogic pedagogy is substituted wholesale for his broader conceptual and political work, his vocabularies and theories that generated new understandings of education and revolution. There is nothing inherent in dialogue or dialogic pedagogy that necessarily leads to progressive, critical understandings. For this to happen the content must be placed in a particular context by a teacher. Peter McLaren, one of the few U.S. educational theorists to insist on Freire’s revolutionary commitments (and a comrade of Freire’s), goes so far as to say that “political choices and ideological paths chosen by teachers are the fundamental stuff of Freirean pedagogy” . We can’t divorce the methodology from the ideology, the theory from the method, or the critical from the pedagogy in Freire’s work.
The dangerous fourth chapter
Freire begins the last chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with “Lenin’s famous statement: ‘Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,’” which Freire rewords to insist that revolutions are achieved neither by verbalism nor by activism “but rather with praxis, that is, with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed” . It would be just as wrong to claim that reflecting on and helping name oppression is enough for revolution as to claim that activism is enough for revolution. The task of revolutionaries is to engage with our class and our people in true, authentic dialogue, reflection, and action. If we have dialogue and reflection without action, then we are little more than armchair revolutionaries. On the other hand, if we have only action without dialogue and reflection, we have mere activism.
Reflection and action are not divisions of labor between revolutionary leaders and the people, whereby the leaders think and direct and the people are only able to act on their orders. “Revolutionary leaders,” he writes, “do bear the responsibility for coordination and, at times, direction—but leaders who deny praxis to the oppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis” . People and revolutionary leaders act together, building and acting in unity before, during, and after the revolution.
The prerequisite for such leadership is the rejection of the “myth of the ignorance of the people” . Freire acknowledges that revolutionary leaders, “due to their revolutionary consciousness,” have “a level of revolutionary knowledge different from the level of empirical knowledge held by the people” .
The act of dialogue unites lived experience with revolutionary theory so that people understand what causes their lived experience to be as it is. This is a restatement of Lenin’s conviction that spontaneous knowledge of exploitation and oppression must be transformed through the Party into revolutionary consciousness of the relationship of our experience to the relationship of broader social, economic, and political forces at differing scales: within the factory, the city, the state, and the world.
This is a Marxist philosophy of education in that it rests on the presumption of competence. We can see it, for example, when Engels writes that he and Marx “cannot co-operate with men who say openly that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves, and must first be emancipated from above by philanthropic members of the upper and lower middle classes” . We can also see it in What is to be Done? as Lenin argues against economist Marxists, who hold that the working class develops its own revolutionary consciousness spontaneously as a result of daily struggles with the bosses. Lenin argued that spontaneity was only consciousness “in an embryonic form,” and that something more was needed. Spontaneity is necessary but is ultimately limited to “what is ‘at the present time’” . In other words, spontaneity by itself isn’t able to look beyond isolated daily struggles and forward to a new society. Lenin called the spontaneously generated mindset “trade union consciousness.”
Lenin believed that workers were capable of more than trade union consciousness. He actually derided those who insisted on appealing to the “average worker:” “You gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the ‘average worker,’ as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing labor politics and labor organization” (p. 153). He wrote that organizers had actually held workers “back by our silly speeches about what ‘can be understood’ by the masses of the workers” . The economist organizers treated workers as objects rather than subjects. They didn’t believe in the people or their potential.
Freire actually calls on Lenin when he insists revolutionary leadership is open and trusting of the people. “As Lenin pointed out,” he writes, “the more a revolution requires theory, the more its leaders must be with the people in order to stand against the power of oppression” . This isn’t a naïve acquiesce but a belief in the power of the masses to become not only agents of revolutionary movements but creators of revolutionary theory through the Party. As Lenin also observed, that the Party creates a particular group of theoreticians: In the Party “all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals… must be obliterated” .
There is no abstract celebration of “horizontalism” within such a pedagogy. The form of the revolution and its leadership isn’t accorded abstractly; it can be more horizontal or more vertical and triangular, depending on the circumstances. Here, Freire turns to Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution to argue that their historical conditions compelled them to revolt without building widely with the people. Yet the leadership pursued this task immediately after taking power through organization, specifically the party. Tyson Lewis is one of the few to observe that “Freire himself clearly saw his pedagogy as a tool to be used within revolutionary organization to mediate the various relationships between the oppressed and the leaders of resistance” . This is why Freire looked so favorably upon Amílcar Cabral.
Uniting politics and pedagogy for revolution
Revolutionary organizers, therefore, are defined not just by the revolutionary ideals they hold or actions they take, but by their humility, patience, and willingness to engage with all exploited and oppressed people. It is not possible for us to “implant” the conviction to fight and struggle in others. Coming-to-critical-consciousness is a delicate and contingent process that can’t be scripted in advance. Still, there are a few general components to it.
First, we have to truly get to know our people, their problems, and their aspirations. This means that we have to actually learn from people, acknowledging that, even if this is their first demonstration, or even if they voted for a democrat in the last election, they actually have something to teach us. The more experiences we learn from the people the richer our theories are and the more connection they can have to the daily realities of workers and oppressed people today. Our class is bursting with creative and intellectual powers that capitalist society doesn’t allow us to express or develop. The revolutionary party is stronger the more it cultivates these powers.
Second, we have to provide opportunities for others to understand their problems in a deeper and wider context, and to push their aspirations forward. Freire gives a concrete and relatable example of this:
…if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching—but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention… The solution lies in synthesis: the leaders must on the one hand identify with the people’s demand for higher salaries, while on the other they must pose the meaning of that very demand as a problem. By doing this, the leaders pose as a problem a real, concrete, historical situation of which the salary demand is one dimension. It will thereby become clear that salary demands alone cannot comprise a definitive solution.
Through this process, both the people and the revolutionary leadership act together and collectively name the world. Genuine knowledge is produced, and authentic action is taken, and real conviction for the struggle is strengthened.
Freire’s popularity presents an opening to draw many into the struggle and, in particular, the communist struggle. By re-establishing the link between his pedagogy and politics, we can draw those who admire his work into the movement. At the same time, we can better understand, adapt, and practice his pedagogical principles in our day-to-day organizing. “Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders,” Freire writes in the book’s last sentence, “can this [revolutionary] theory be built”.
 This process started with the advent of U.S. “critical pedagogy” in the early 1980s, and Freire’s later work might have played a role in it as well. See Malott, Curry S. (2015). History and education: Engaging the global class war (New York: Peter Lang), 63.  Freire, Paulo. (1970/2011). Pedagogy of the oppressed (New York: Continuum), 54.  Ibid., 58.  Ibid., 80.  Ibid.  McLaren, Peter. (2015). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education, 6th ed. (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers), 241.  Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 125-126.  Ibid., 126.  Ibid.  Ibid., 134.  Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. (1991). “Marx and Engels to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Wilhelm Bracke and others (circular letter),” trans. P. Ross & B. Ross, in Marx and Engels collected works (vol. 45), ed. S. Gerasimenko, Y.Kalinina, and A. Vladimirova (New York: International Publishers), 408, emphasis added.  Lenin, V.I. (1902/1987). “What is to be done?” in Essential works of Lenin, ed. H.M. Christman (New York: Dover Publications), 67.  Ibid., 156.  Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 138.  Lenin, “What is to be done?”, 137.  Lewis, Tyson E. (2012). “Mapping the constellation of educational Marxism(s),” Educational Philosophy and Theory 44, no. S1: 98-114.  Malott, Curry. (2021). Amílcar Cabral: Liberator, theorist, and educator,” Liberation School, 20 January. Available here.  Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 183.  Ibid.
Editorial note from alai.net: If we want to rescue Paulo Freire’s legacy, we must return to grassroots work with working classpeople and adopt his methods, relying on a historical perspective and looking toward utopias of freedom and the democratic horizon.
Frei Betto is most familiar with Paulo Freire, who was a personal friend. He has utilized Freire’s popular education methods in his own daily work. This tribute to Freire on the centenary of his birth, a straightforward and exemplary presentation of his methods, derives from personal experience We met Betto when he belonged to the scientific committee of a group of theologians and philosophers that have long edited the International Journal Concilium (in 7 languages). We have engaged in a great dialogue, at which he is a master. Betto is counted among the founders of Liberation Theology, something of which he was very proud.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I can affirm, without fear of exaggeration, that Paulo Freire was at the root of the history of people’s power in Brazil for over 50 years, between 1966 and 2016. This power emerged as a leafy tree of the Brazilian left, active in the second half of the 20th century. There were groups that fought against the military dictatorship (1964-1985); the Basic Ecclesial communities of the Christian Churches; the broad network of popular and social movements that emerged in the 1970s; combative trade unionism; and, in the 1980s, the founding of the CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores); of ANAMPOS (National Articulation of Popular and Trade Union Movements) and then of the CMP (Central of Popular Movements); of the PT (Workers’ Parties); and of the MST (Landless Rural Workers’ Movement); and of so many other movements, NGOs and more.
If I had to answer the question: “Name one person accounting for all this”, I would say without any doubt: Paulo Freire. Without Paulo Freire’s popular education methodology, there would have been no such political activity, because he taught us something very important: we must look at history from the point of view of the oppressed and make them the protagonists of change in society.
The excluded as political subjects
On leaving political prison, at the end of 1973 – I was a political prisoner – I had the impression that all struggle out here had ended through the power of repression by the military dictatorship, and because all of us were in jail, dead, or in exile. We were firmly of the opinion that we were the only knowledgeable ones in the struggle capable of rescuing democracy. So think how surprised I was, when I found an immense network of popular movements scattered all over Brazil.
When the PT was founded in 1980, I saw left-wing comrades reacting: “Workers? No. It’s too much to think that workers might be the vanguard of the proletariat. We theoretical intellectuals, Marxists, are the ones who are able to lead the working class”. In Brazil, however, at that early stage, the oppressed themselves were becoming not only historical subjects, but also political leaders, thanks to the methodology of Paulo Freire.
Once, in Mexico, left-wing comrades asked me: “How can we do something here something similar to your process in Brazil? You have a sector of the left in the Church, a combative trade unionism, and the PT (the Workers’ Party)? How is that kind of people’s political power achieved?”
“You begin by doing people’s education,” I replied, “and 30 years from now …”
They interrupted me:” Thirty years is too long! We want a suggestion for three years from now!” I don’t know how to do it in three years,” I observed, “but I know the way to do it in thirty years.”
In short, the whole process of building the people’s political forces that resulted in the election of Lula as president of Brazil, in 2002, and kept the PT in the federal government for thirteen years, didn’t fall from the sky. Everything was quite tenaciously built out of organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots level applying the methods of Paulo Freire.
The Paulo Freire method
I became acquainted with the Paulo Freire method in 1963. I was living in Rio de Janeiro and was part of the National Directorate of Catholic Action. When the first work groups for the Paulo Freire method showed up, I joined a team that on Saturdays went up to Petrópolis, 70 km from Rio, to teach literacy to workers at the National Motor Factory. There I discovered that no one teaches anything to anyone. Rather, some people help others learn.
What did we do with the workers in that truck factory? We photographed the facilities, gathered the workers in a church hall, projected slides and asked them a simple question:
In this picture, what is it that you did not do? Answer: “Well, we didn’t make the tree, the plant, the road, the water….”
What you did not make is nature,” we said. But, “What is it that human labor made?”, we inquired. They replied that, “human labor made the brick, the factory, the bridge, the fence.” “That’s our culture, is the way things are,” we said, “And how were these things made?
They talked it over and then replied:
“They were made in the way we human beings transform nature for our use in the culture we live in.” Immediately, we presented the photo of the courtyard of the Fábrica Nacional de Motores filled by many trucks, and by the bicycles of the workers. We simply asked:
“In this photo, what did you make?” “The trucks.” Then, “what do you have?” “The bicycles.” “You wouldn’t be mistaken, would you?” “No, we did make the trucks…”
“And why don’t you go back home by truck? Why do you go by bicycle?” Answer: “Because the truck is expensive and it’s not ours.” “How much does a truck cost?”
“About 40,000 dollars.” “How much do you earn per month?” “Well, we make an average of $200.”
“How long would each one of you have to work, without eating, without drinking, without paying rent, and saving all your salary so as, one day, to be the owner of the truck you built?
Right there, they began to calculate and were becoming aware of the essence of how capital relates to work and of what surplus value and exploitation are.
The most elementary notions of Marxism, as a critique of capitalism, materialized through a method outlined by Paulo Freire. With the difference that we weren’t giving classes. We were not carrying out “banking education,” as Paulo Freire called it, that is; inserting political ideas into the workers’ heads. The method was inductive. As Paulo used to say, we teachers did not teach, but rather were helping the students learn.
Different and complementary cultures
When I arrived in São Bernardo do Campo (SP), in 1980, there were leftist activists who were distributing newspapers among the workers’ families. One day Dona Marta asked me: “What is “class contradiction? “
“Mrs. Marta, forget that,” I replied. She offered an excuse for the question claiming difficulty in reading; “My eyesight is bad and the print is small.” “Forget that,” I repeated. “The left writes things like that for themselves. It makes them happy. They think they are making the revolution.”
Paulo Freire taught us not only to speak in popular, evocative, non-academic language, but also to learn with the people. He taught the people how to recover their self-esteem.
After leaving prison, I lived for five years in a favela in the state of Espírito Santo. I worked in popular education there with the Paulo Freire method. When I returned to São Paulo at the end of the 1970s, Freire suggested that I write a report on our experience in education and, thanks to facilitations by journalist Ricardo Kotscho, we produced a book entitled “That School Called Life” (Ática publishers). It tells about his experience as educator and creator of his method, and mine as a grassroots educator.
In the book I tell how, in the favela where I lived, there was a group of women pregnant with their first child, who were cared for by doctors from the Municipal Health Secretariat. I asked the doctors why work only with women pregnant with their first child.
“We don’t want women who already have maternal vices,” they said, “we want to teach everything. Well, after a few months, they knocked on my door.
“Betto, we want your help”. “My help?” “There’s a short circuit between us and the women. They don’t understand what we are talking about. You, who have experience with them, could advise us.”
I went to look at their work. As I entered the neighborhood health center, I was frightened. There were very poor women there, and the Center was decorated with posters of Johnson [& Johnson] babies, blue-eyed blondes, Nestlé advertisements, etc. Faced with that visual spectacle, I reacted:
“It’s all wrong. When women come in here and see these babies, they think it’s another world. It has nothing to do with their babies.”
I watched the doctors at work. They were talking on FM and the women were tuned to AM. Their communication really didn’t work. In one session, Dr. Raul explained, in scientific language, the importance of maternal nutrition, and therefore protein, for the formation of the human brain. When he finished the presentation, the women looked at him as I would do if I opened a text in Mandarin or Arabic: without understanding anything.
“Doña María, did you understand what Dr. Raúl said?” -I asked. “No, I didn’t understand, I only understood that he said that our milk is good for the children’s heads”. “And why didn’t you understand?” “Because I have no education. I didn’t go to school much; I was born poor in the countryside. I had to work the land and help support the family.”
“And why did Dr. Raul know how to explain all that?” “Because he is a doctor, he has studied. He knows and I don’t know.”
“Doctor Raul, do you know how to cook?” -I asked. “I don’t even know how to make coffee.”
“Doña María, do you know how to cook?” “Yes, I do.” “Do you know how to make chicken in dark sauce (a dish that in Espirito Santo and also in some areas of the Northeast is called “galinha de cabidela”)? “Yes, I do.”
Please stand up,” I asked her, “and tell us how to make chicken in dark sauce.”
Dona Maria gave a culinary lecture: how the chicken is butchered, how it is plucked, how the meat is prepared and the sauce is made, etc.”
When she sat down, I said: “Doctor Raul, do you know how to make a dish like this?”
“Of course not, I like it, but I don’t know how to cook it.” Doña María,” I concluded, “If you and Doctor Raul were lost in a thick forest, starving, and suddenly a chicken appeared, he would die of hunger despite all his learning, but not you.
The woman smiled from ear to ear. At that moment she discovered a fundamental principle of Paulo Freire: there is no one person more educated than another; there are different cultures, which in society complement each other. If we tried to balance all my philosophy and theology and the culinary knowledge of the cook at the convent where I live, she can get by without my knowledge, but I cannot do without hers. That’s the difference. The knowledge of a cook is indispensable for all of us.
Paulo Freire and future challenges
Given the emergence of so many authoritarian governments and the profusion of anti-democratic, racist, homophobic, sexist and negative messages on digital networks, it seems to me of utmost importance to return to Paulo Freire on this date, which is the centennial of his birth.
The waning of progressive forces in Latin America in recent years and the emergence of neo-fascist figures such as Bolsonaro in Brazil force us to recognize that decades ago we abandoned the grassroots work of popular organization and mobilization. This vacuum among populations in the periphery, in the favelas, in poor rural areas is being filled by religious fundamentalism, drug trafficking and armed men.
Paulo Freire teaches us in his works that there is no mobilization without prior consciousness-raising. It’s necessary for people to have a “coat rack” where they can hang their political ideas and the keys they use to analyze reality. Their “coat rack” is their perception of time as history.
There are civilizations, tribes, groups, that have no perception of time as history. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed that time was cyclical. Today, ideas of time return through esotericism, denialism, fatalism and religious fundamentalism. But it returns above all through neoliberalism.
The essence of neoliberalism is the separation of time from historical context. When Fukuyama declared that “history is over,” he expressed the basic message of neoliberalism, that we have reached the fullness of time! The neoliberal mode of capitalist production, based on dictates of the market, is definitive. Few are chosen and many are excluded. And there is no point in wanting to fight for an alternative society, for “another world that is possible!”
In fact, today it is difficult to speak of an alternative society. Socialism, then, out of the question! Now comes shame, an intellectual and emotional blockade. “Socialism is over, it collapsed, it collapsed, it was buried”, say the soothsayers. Any alternatives that are put forward must come from within the system.
The notion that time is history comes from the Persians, passed on to the Hebrews and accentuated by the Jewish tradition. Three great paradigms of our culture are of Jewish origin -Jesus, Marx and Freud, and, accordingly, they worked with the category of time as history.
It is not possible to study Marxism without delving into the previous modes of production, in order to understand how the capitalist mode of production came about, and also, in order to understand how its contradictions could lead to socialist and communist modes of production. Marxist analysis therefore supposes the rescue of time as history.
If someone engages in analysis or psychotherapy, the psychoanalyst asks the patient about his past, her childhood, his education. If the patient could talk about his or her intrauterine life, so much the better…. Freud’s whole psychology is a rescue of our relationships as individuals with time.
Jesus’ perspective was historical. The God of Jesus presents himself with a curriculum vitae: he is not just any god -he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – a God who makes history. The main category of Jesus’ preaching is historical: the Kingdom of God. It’s situated up there by means of ecclesiastical discourse, but theologically that’s not where it is. The Kingdom is up ahead of us. It’s the culmination of the historical process.
It is curious that in the Bible, history as a factor correlating with time is so strong that the Genesis story of the world being created already shows time as history even before human beings appeared.
For many, history is what men and women do. Therefore, there is no history before the emergence of men and women, so much so that we speak of prehistory. Even so, for the Bible, there is already history before the appearance of human beings – so much so that the Greeks considered the god of the Hebrews a very incompetent entity. A true god creates things instantaneously, like Nescafé, and not gradually, the way the biblical account has it. In the seven-day long story of Creation, already there is history. And Paulo Freire, a man with a Christian background and a militant follower of the fundamentals of Marxism, knew about the importance of reading the world as a prerequisite for reading the text.
Neoliberalism does not like this perspective. For this reason, popular education cannot be carried out without having a “vertical rack” to hang clothes on. This “rack” – time as history – is fundamental for us to be able to visualize social and political processes. This also happens in the micro dimension of our lives. Why do many people today find it difficult to decide on life projects? Why are there young people who reach the age of 20 without the slightest idea of what they want to be in life or to do? For many of them, everything is here and now.
That is why, if we want to rescue Paulo Freire’s legacy, the road leads to grassroots work with the popular classes, adapting his methods with a mind to history and openness to freedom-loving utopias and the democratic horizon. Without the people there is no salvation. And if we believe that democracy actually is government of the people for the people and with the people, our only alternative is to adopt the Paulo Freirean educational process that establishes those who are oppressed as political and historical protagonists.
When Paulo Freire returned from 15 years of exile, in August 1979, we met in São Paulo. We were neighbors and I often visited him. We became very close in our personal relations.I end this homage with this text that I wrote on May 2, 1997, the date of Paulo Freire’s death:
Literacy manuals taught: “Ivo saw the grape.” But Professor Paulo Freire, with his way of teaching literacy by raising awareness, enables adults and children in Brazil and Guinea-Bissau, in India, in Nicaragua and in so many other places to discover that Ivo saw not merely with his eyes. He also saw with his mind as he wonders whether grapes are something from nature or from human activities, from their culture.
Ivo saw that fruit does not result from human labor. It is Creation, it is nature. Paulo Freire taught Ivo that planting grapes is human action in and on nature. And the hand, a multi-use tool, awakens the potentialities of the fruit. Similarly, human beings are sown by nature over the course of a prolonged time period in which the universe evolves.
You take the grape, crush it and transform it into wine; that’s culture, as Paulo Freire pointed out. Work humanizes nature and, in the process, men and women humanize themselves. Work establishes the knot of relationships and social life. Thanks to this teacher, who began his revolutionary pedagogy with the workers of Sesi de Pernambuco, Ivo realizes that seasonal workers, who earn little, harvest the grapes and that middlemen, who earn much more, market the grapes.
Ivo learned with Paulo that, even if he could not read, he is not an ignorant person. Before learning his letters, Ivo knew how to build a house, brick by brick. The doctor, the lawyer or the dentist, with all their studies, are not capable of building like Ivo does. Paulo Freire taught Ivo that there is no one person more educated than another, that there are parallel cultures; they are different and in society they complement each other.
“Ivo saw the grape,” and then Paulo Freire showed him the bunches, the vineyard, and the whole plantation. He taught Ivo that to understand what he is reading, it’s best to insert the text into the shared context of the author and the reader. From this relationship between text and context manifesting in dialogue, Ivo derives the occasion for taking action. What matters for Ivo’s learning, from start to finish, is praxis. This is an inductive process, from praxis to theory to praxis, that turns the learner into a subject within history.
Ivo saw the grape and did not see the bird that, from above, looks down on the vine and does not see the grape. What Ivo sees is different from what the bird sees. Thus, Paulo Freire taught Ivo a fundamental principle of epistemology: the head thinks on the basis of feet walking. One reads the world of inequalities either from the viewpoint of the oppressor or from the viewpoint of the oppressed. In the end, the readings may differ from each other no less than did the vision of Ptolemy, who viewed the solar system with his feet on Earth, from that of Copernicus, who imagined himself with his feet on the Sun.
Now Ivo sees the grape, the grapevine, and all the social relations that together convert the fruit into a chalice of wine and a party. But no longer does he see Paulo Freire, who immersed himself in Love on the morning of May 2, 1997. He leaves us his invaluable labor and testimony notable for its expertise and coherence.
Paulo was due to go to Cuba, where would have received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Havana. His heart, full of so much love, was in pain and he asked me to go there to represent him. But I had to go to Palestine and it was not possible for me to accommodate his request. However, before embarking, I did go to pray with Nita, his wife, and with his children gathered around his peaceful countenance: Paulo was seeing God. W. T. Whitney Jr modified and edited the translation from Spanish provided by www.deepl.com. The Spanish-language version is available at: https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/213814.
Centennial of Paulo Freire 1921-2021 / La Internacional de la Educación América Latina
Socialist educator Paulo Freire was born one hundred years ago today in the Brazilian city of Recife. A longtime comrade of Freire, leading Marxist pedagogue Peter McLaren writes about how his life and work remain deeply relevant today.
Today marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire. Most widely known for his magisterial Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire continues to be a lodestar for teachers working in poverty-stricken communities across the globe, and for just about anyone who’s searching for a sense of justice in an unjust world.
Every critically minded educator has at some point used Freire in their teaching — either to gain some insight into the upside-down world of the oppressed or as the inspiration that led them to view teaching as a way to overturn society’s asymmetries of power and privilege. Freire’s literacy programs for empowering peasants are now used in countries all over the globe, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently the third-most-cited work in the social sciences, and first in the field of education.
Freire’s celebrity has made him both a target and a prophet in his home country of Brazil. Presently, he is being singled out by far-right groups like Movimento Brasil Livre and Revoltados Online, and president Jair Bolsonaro claims he is behind a conspiracy of Marxist indoctrination in the Brazilian school system.
In fact, Bolsonaro’s attempts to extinguish Freire’s memory recall US Republican attacks on critical race theorists and Marxist educators. Bolsonaro and the right-wing movement Escola sem Partido have encouraged school students to film teachers during class, especially if they suspect them of advocating left-leaning ideas or, worse still, sponsoring Freirean-inspired political or social views. A federal deputy from Bolsonaro’s party has even introduced a bill to strip Freire of his ceremonial title as the “patron of Brazilian education.”
Even conservatives in the United States have jumped on the Freire-bashing bandwagon. The Economist’s recent issue “The threat from the illiberal left” includes an article devoted to “woke culture” that disingenuously describes Freire’s pedagogy as written in the spirit of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Never mind that the article plucks its evidence from a single footnote of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or, more importantly, that Freire’s work was premised on solidarity with the masses and stands against the kind of violence that became a part of the Cultural Revolution.
So, why should Bolsonaro and the Economist target Freire? What is it about his ideas that they find so threatening?
The Life of a Revolutionary Educator
Paulo Freire grew up in Northeastern Brazil in the state of Recife during the global Great Depression of the 1930s. He learned to read by making letters from the branches of the mango tree in whose shade he would sit under as a youth. Freire’s experience of hunger and poverty at a young age eventually caused him to fall four grades behind his classmates, and the death of Freire’s father in 1933 only made matters worse.
Despite that, Freire eventually was able to finish his schooling, graduate from university, earn a doctorate from the University of Recife in 1959, and be admitted to the legal bar (although he never practiced law). He began his professional life at the age of twenty-six, working as a Portuguese teacher at Oswaldo Cruz Secondary School. In 1946, he was appointed director of the Department of Education and Culture of Social Services, an employer’s institution created to provide workers and their families in the state of Pernambuco with health, housing, education, and leisure services. In 1961, he became the director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University and was involved in a storied educational project aimed at dealing with mass illiteracy in 1962.
Freire’s 1962 literacy project in Recife brought him international recognition, particularly for his use of folk traditions and his placing importance on the collective construction of knowledge. It was there that Freire began to create what he called “cultural circles” — a term he preferred to “literacy classes,” since “literacy” and “illiteracy” assumed that reading and writing were already an integral part of the workers’ social world.
One such cultural circle saw three hundred sugarcane harvesters learn to read and write in an astonishing forty-five days. Understandably buoyed by Freire’s success, the Brazilian government led by president João Goulart drew up plans to establish two thousand Freirean cultural circles that would ideally reach five million adult learners and teach them to read within a two-year period. It was to be a great accomplishment in a country where only half the adult population could read and write.
That did not happen. Instead, in 1964, a right-wing military coup overthrew Goulart’s democratically elected government. Freire was accused of preaching communism and interrogated and arrested. He was imprisoned by the military government for seventy days and went into self-exile for fear that his prominent position in the national literacy campaign might lead to his assassination. Indeed, the Brazilian military considered Freire “an international subversive” and “a traitor to Christ and the Brazilian people,” accused of trying to turn Brazil into a “Bolshevik country.”
Freire’s sixteen years of exile were both tumultuous and productive: after a brief stay in Bolivia, he spent five years in Chile, where he became involved in the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement and worked as a UNESCO consultant with the Research and Training Institute for Agrarian Reform. He served a visiting appointment in 1969 to Harvard University’s Center for Studies in Development and Social Change, only to move the following year to Geneva, Switzerland. There, he acted as a consultant to the Office of Education of the World Council of Churches, where he developed literacy programs for Tanzania and Guinea-Bissau that focused on the re-Africanization of their countries. He was also involved in the development of literacy programs in postrevolutionary former Portuguese colonies such as Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, and he assisted the governments of Peru and Nicaragua with their own literacy campaigns.
Freire was decidedly Marxist, but his language never canvassed the political landscape with the usual Marxist-Leninist argot. Freire finally returned to Brazil in 1980 to teach at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica de São Paulo and the Universidade de Campinas. From 1980 to 1986, he was the supervisor of the adult literacy project for the Workers’ Party in São Paulo. Freire worked briefly as secretary of education of São Paulo, from 1989 to 1992, continuing his radical agenda of literacy reform for the people of that city.
Global Literacy Campaigns
All during his time in exile, Freire had been writing what would soon become classics: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Cultural Action for Freedom, and Pedagogy in Process: Letters to Guinea-Bissau. Freire’s work would be taken up later by educators, philosophers, and political activists in North America and Europe, but it was fundamentally minted in the Global South: in the base communities, urban barrios, shantytowns, and favelas where it influenced — and was influenced by — countless social movements, from the anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa to the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil.
Freire always encouraged educators to reinvent his work rather than simply “transplant” it across various national borders, as he saw his teachings as emerging from a distinctly Brazilian context. He had arrived at that realization early on, having himself taken lessons from like-minded educators whose experience in other countries with mass literacy campaigns he needed to adapt to Brazil.
Freire met the architect of the Cuban Literacy Campaign, Raúl Ferrer, in 1965 at the World Conference Against Illiteracy in Tehran. Ferrer and Freire met again in 1979 to discuss the role of literacy in the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.
Freire considered the Cuban Literacy campaign, which was responsible for making literate over nine hundred thousand people in less than one year, as among the great educational achievements of the twentieth century. He said similar things about the Sandinista’s literacy campaign in Nicaragua.
Freire openly acknowledged Cuban independence leader José Martí as one of the most important revolutionary thinkers of the twentieth century, and he was a staunch admirer of Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara. President Hugo Chavez in turn was a great admirer of Freire and expressed to me a desire to bring Freire’s work into the Bolivarian Revolution — a mission of which I was able play a brief and modest role.
The week after Freire’s unexpected death, he was scheduled to attend a ceremony in Cuba where Fidel Castro was to present him with a major award for his contribution to education. According to his friends, this was to be the most important award of Freire’s life.
A Resolute Marxist
For Freire, challenging capitalism was an urgent and pressing necessity. He did not often provide exact descriptions of what his vision of a socialist alternative would look like, but Freire’s adherence to a materialist epistemology was firm and deep, and he maintained throughout his life a modernist faith in human agency and in language’s unshakeable sociality.
Freire was decidedly Marxist, but his language never canvassed the political landscape with the usual Marxist-Leninist argot. He did not, for instance, preach that all value originates in the sphere of production, nor did he believe that the main role of schools is to serve the agents of capital and its masters.
He did, however, view capitalist education as reproducing the social relations of a dominating and exploitative social order, and that the typical nostrum of “improving one’s lot” through education was often an ideological veil channeling human solidarity into false narratives of individual hard work, reward, and progress.
Freire was a formidable philosopher, but instead of isolated musings, he used philosophy in the service of advancing his emancipatory pedagogy. Freire’s vision of liberation from authoritarian forms of education was drawn from the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave; his description of the self-transformation of the oppressed was inspired by the existentialism of Martin Buber and Jean-Paul Sartre; and his conception of the historicity of social relations was influenced by the historical materialism of Karl Marx.
Freire’s emphasis on love as a necessary precondition of authentic education was part of an abiding affinity he had with radical Christian liberation theology. Dom Hélder Câmara, a Brazilian Roman Catholic archbishop of Olinda and Recife — who had a profound influence on Freire — captured the spirit of liberation theology in a few short phrases: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Freire, himself a Catholic, was not overly concerned with “religiosity” but rather with the prospect of a liberated church — in a region where much of the education system was still under control of religious authorities. Freire dreamed instead of what he called “the prophetic church”: a Church that would stand in solidarity with the victims of capitalist society. It was that vision that led Gustavo Gutierrez, who codified Liberation Theology’s central tenet of the “option for the poor,” to invite Freire to elaborate some of the key elements of the emerging radical Christian doctrine.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Despite all of Freire’s connections to liberation theology, the description that most readily captures Freire’s vocation is that of “philosopher of praxis.” Freire’s philosophy was designed, simply put, to help human beings actively become more fully human — and that political and ethical project meant understanding and also transforming the world. This was a task best captured in Freire’s popularized saying, “reading the word and the world.”
Freire was unrivaled in his obsession with the power of the spoken and written word — with what that power reveals about the world as it appears before us and about what the world could be. For Freire, the sphere of literacy enables human beings to live in the subjunctive mode — in an “as if” state that opens up pathways to new worlds.
Another of Freire’s categories, “untested feasibility,” was an elaborate philosophy of hope that called for disenfranchised groups to move beyond their “limit situations” — i.e., the constraints placed on their humanity by underdevelopment — and transform those adverse conditions into a space for creative experimentation. This was, for Freire, what was at stake in literacy: a practice that could be used to disenfranchise and exclude just as easily as it could be to emancipate.
Buttressing Freire’s pedagogy was a complex but solid materialist vision of the world and its transformation. For Freire, any action taken on the world necessarily transforms the world as we know it. Moreover, transforming the world affects the manner in which individuals act on it after. To enter into this process is how individuals learn to become subjects who act upon a dynamic, open world rather than remaining passive objects that are merely acted upon in a closed, unchanging system. This was Freire’s vision of how the oppressed can overcome subjugation.
“Dialogue” and “dialectic” are key words in the Freirean vocabulary. The dialogical “encounter,” as Freire called it, is actually the opposite of indoctrination (an irony lost on Brazilian and American critics concerned with critical race theory or Freirean “indoctrination”). Freire resisted what he called “banking education” — depositing taken-for-granted knowledge into the brain-pain of hapless students — because it was both socially oppressive and assumed a world so fixed that the same lessons could be repeated ad nauseam. As Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
Since dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants. . . . Because dialogue is an encounter among [humans] who name the world, it must not be a situation where some [humans] name it on behalf of others.
As subjects, we are encouraged by Freire to break out of the prison house of prefabricated knowledge and its attendant relations of domination by changing the material conditions that shape us. Standing with the oppressed was for Freire not just an ethical imperative — as it was for liberation theology — but also an epistemological one: it was, he insisted, the only way to break with the idea that there is some realm of pure ideas to be plucked out and transmitted by designated authorities. Truth, for Freire, was always dialogic, always about the self and the other bound together in a dialectical contradiction of everyday life.
Freire always resisted being identified with the many different movements and trends within education to which some have claimed he was affiliated, whether it was popular education, adult education, educational change, nonformal education, progressive education, or Marxist pedagogy. Whereas some of these currents would eventually fall into the hands of educational policy wonks, Freire’s project remained firmly a pedagogy of the oppressed.
Our world is one that Freire in many senses fought to forestall: one where knowing through problem-posing is losing ground to endless culture wars; where teachers are being criticized for evidence-based reasoning; where people are punished for challenging the history of the United States’ colonial entanglements and its brutal history of slavery. The kind of courageous thinking that Freire called for makes the moral cowardice of most of today’s political leaders and public figures all the more damning.
What is needed in our school systems today is a pedagogy that enables students to understand their lived experiences in broader, more complex sociopolitical contexts. The culture wars in the United States and Brazil are at least in part about the fear of what this would mean: rightly or wrongly, inviting students to consider the merits of feminist theory, critical race theory, decolonial theory, and other languages of analysis also means reflecting on the historical experiences that make those perspectives possible in the first place.
At its root, whether it’s in Brazil or the United States, the Right is stoking fears of a vast conspiracy of indoctrination because they themselves are afraid. By imagining our schools as a place of Darwinian struggle to impose competing worldviews, conservatives are conveniently trying to make us forget what Freire helped us to understand: that education is not just about static worldviews but also, potentially, about world-changing. Or as Freire put it: “Reading the world comes before reading the word.”
Author: Peter McLaren is codirector of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project and international ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice. He is one of the world’s leading scholars of critical pedagogy and is the author of more than forty books, including, most recently, Pedagogy of Insurrection.
In Sunday’s elections in Graz, Austria, the Communist Party romped to victory for the first time in history. Jacobin spoke to one of its winning candidates about how the party built a “red fortress” in the city.
If the social experiments of “Red Vienna” long associated Austria with the historic high points of social democracy, recent decades have instead seen this Alpine republic become a laboratory for right-wing populism. But in Graz — the country’s second-biggest city after Vienna — there is an alternative to the reactionary trend. In this Sunday’s elections, the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) secured an unprecedented victory, winning 29 percent of the vote. With the defeat of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), Communist Elke Kahr is now expected to become mayor.
The KPÖ’s striking success in this city — at odds with its marginal presence in national politics — owes to years of community engagement rooted in a steadfast class politics. Its progress wouldn’t have been possible without dedicated activists like thirty-four-year-old Robert Krotzer, who was second on the KPÖ list in this election. In 2017, he became the youngest person ever to be elected to the Graz city senate, since then serving as head of the Department of Health and of Caregiving at the Department of Social Services.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Krotzer spoke with Jacobin’s Adam Baltner about how the KPÖ built this unlikely “red fortress.”
AB In Austria’s national elections, the KPÖ normally earns about 1 percent of the vote. In Graz, however — the capital of the state of Styria — the party does considerably better, earning around 20 percent since the early 2000s. Why is the KPÖ so successful in Graz in particular?
RK This has to do with a political orientation going back to the early 1990s — a time of profound crisis for the Communist movement. Back then, one of the mottos of the KPÖ Styria was “A useful party for everyday life and for the grand objectives of the labor movement.” In line with this maxim, the party pursued a highly concrete politics, especially for tenants.
In particular, [former KPÖ politician and Graz party chair] Ernest Kaltenegger did tremendous work here, establishing for himself a very positive reputation among the population. Kaltenegger was always there to help others and lend an ear to their problems. To this day, people still tell stories about him even fixing things in their apartments. But he also politicized the issue of housing.
At the beginning of the 1990s, many developers tried to clear entire houses of tenants, sometimes with extremely draconian methods, such as removing windows from building entrances in January, allegedly because they were sending them away to be repaired. In 1991, an emergency tenants’ hotline was established as a first point of contact for people having trouble with their landlords. Legal counseling for “victims of speculators” — as they were then called — was also set up on Kaltenegger’s initiative. Out of this interplay of very concrete help and legal support, the KPÖ was able to make a name for itself.
A major campaign against high rent prices in public housing followed several years later. At the time, even in public housing, it wasn’t unusual for people to pay up to 55 percent of their income on rent. So the KPÖ introduced a bill in the city council stipulating that no one living in public housing would have to pay more than a third of their income in rent. Like so many other bills from the KPÖ, it was rejected by all the other parties. Subsequently, the KPÖ gathered signatures, particularly in public housing and together with tenants. The party then presented the city council with a “Petition in Accordance with Styrian Popular Law” containing seventeen thousand signatures and reintroduced the bill. This time, it passed unanimously.
The following election in 1998 marked the KPÖ’s first major breakthrough at the polls with 7.9 percent of the vote. Kaltenegger was given the Department of Housing by the ruling parties, who expected him to fail in this role. But things turned out differently. In fact, he was able to get a fair amount done, such as make sure that each public housing unit had its own toilet and bathroom. And then, in the 2003 election, the party achieved 20.8 percent.
This all shows that left-wing politics requires endurance and grassroots work. It also shows that parliamentary functionaries can use extra-parliamentary pressure to push things forward that would otherwise not be possible under the given power relations.
You just touched upon not only how the KPÖ has built support in Graz but also how it has influenced city politics from its role as an opposition party. What other examples are there of that?
RK One of the most enduring achievements of the KPÖ came in 2004 when it blocked the privatization of Graz’s public-housing stock. At the time, the [conservative] ÖVP, the SPÖ [Social Democratic Party of Austria], and indeed all other parties on the city council agreed on privatization. Sadly, around the same time, a “red-red” government in Berlin [a coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the predecessor to Die Linke] privatized apartments owned by the city.
Although we were still a small party at the time, we managed to gather more than ten thousand signatures for our petition against privatization, which according to Styrian law is the necessary number for an official referendum organized by the city. At the ballot box, about 96 percent voted against selling off the housing units. To this day, all parties have kept their hands off public housing — the issue of privatization has never resurfaced.
Even though we’ve never been one of the ruling coalition parties, we’ve held offices in the city executive since 1998. This is because of the proportional representation system, which allocates city senate seats on the basis of the parties’ vote shares. Currently, our party chair, Elke Kahr, leads the Department of Roads and the Department of Transportation Planning, and I am responsible for Health and Caregiving. We’ve had successes in both these areas — in spite of the difficult conditions of the past four and a half years under the right-wing coalition government between the ÖVP and the FPÖ [Freedom Party of Austria, far-right].
We’ve built new bicycle paths and improved public transportation by expanding the tram network and creating new bus lines. And we’ve introduced the so-called Graz Care Model, according to which care-dependent elders receive allowances from the city so that they can be cared for at home and don’t have to move into nursing homes.
AB When you were named responsible for Health and Caregiving in 2017, no one was expecting the COVID-19 crisis to hit. How have you been able to use your office to address the crisis at the local level?
RK The Graz Department of Health is a relatively small but nevertheless important department. In comparison to Vienna, which is both a city and its own state, Graz is only a city. For this reason, unlike our Viennese counterpart, we lack certain responsibilities, such as administering hospital associations. As I took over the department, people in Young People’s Party [youth organization of the conservative ÖVP] circles were saying, “Krotzer’s getting the Department of Health because he can’t do any damage there anyway.” This paints a picture of how seriously the ÖVP takes the issues of health and caregiving. In comparison, they’ve always been of crucial importance to us in the KPÖ.
Urban health policy with regards to the COVID crisis means, above all, contact tracing, or following and breaking chains of infection. This is, of course, an enormous task for any public health agency. In February 2020, the Graz Office of Epidemiology consisted of exactly two and a half positions. By November 2020, two hundred people were working there.
However, we haven’t simply fulfilled our administrative duties. Working with migrant and elderly organizations as well as with welfare institutions, we started a telephone chain in March 2020 in order to spread information and to find out what people knew and needed at the time. We then supported them in concrete ways, such as by connecting them with shopping services or providing them with grocery vouchers.
The national and state governments made numerous promises that they would make rapid antigen tests available to the public, yet in the fall of 2020, we ended up paying for these out of our own pocket and sending them to nursing homes, home health providers, and welfare institutions. In order to bring the vaccine to the population, we also conducted special vaccination campaigns — such as for the sellers of the street newspaper Megafon and in the Graz mosque, in churches, in libraries, and in different parts of the city. All of this is in keeping with our aim to be a useful party for everyday life.
AB The election coverage was dominated by speculation about which parties will join the governing coalition. In your opinion, what are the decisive issues?
RK Only very rarely have voters raised the issue of potential coalitions to me. Rather, conversations at information stands tend to be about how people have received help from us in highly concrete ways. And that is absolutely a major bonus that we have as the KPÖ.
Every year, thousands of people visit Elke [Kahr] and myself in our office hours. There, we see how we can best help them, whether by providing them with legal advice, helping them fill out applications, or giving them direct financial support — KPÖ representatives in the city senate and the Styrian Landtag [parliament] voluntarily donate two-thirds of their salaries to people in need.
For us, this is definitely not charity. Rather, it is a form of politics oriented around a basic socialist-communist principle that goes back to the Paris Commune. I think it’s hard to speak genuinely empathically with someone who works full time for €1,200 a month, when you earn three, four, five times that much. After all, as Marx said: Being determines consciousness.
In addition to the failure of [the right-wing governing coalition’s] social policy, I would name rapidly progressing urban sprawl as another one of the major issues. In Graz, construction plans are approved and green spaces given away extremely frivolously because the ÖVP mayor Siegfried Nagl [who resigned this Sunday] is quite friendly toward investors. Many people are massively disturbed by this. Not few have even said to me, because of the building frenzy of the last few years, “My whole life I’ve never voted for any party but the ÖVP, but enough is enough.”
AB The program of the KPÖ Styria highlights the heritage of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Because of this open commitment to a radical politics, the conservative ÖVP has been red-baiting you for years — apparently without much success. How do you handle anti-communist smears?
RK In spring of this year, we issued a press release commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the first manned space flight. Of course, the first person in space was the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The ÖVP attempted to trip us up by submitting an urgent motion to the city council demanding parties distance themselves from all totalitarian ideologies, including Soviet Communism. All other parties, including the SPÖ and the Greens, voted in favor of this motion. The ÖVP then expressed outrage over the fact that we refused.
Our response was ultimately fairly measured. We’ve known the ÖVP long enough to understand what they want to achieve with something like this. Our city councilwoman Elke Heinrichs gave a speech extensively detailing that the KPÖ has always been the leading force of resistance against fascism in Austria and — in contrast to the other parties that have been around since the postwar period — has never had comrades with fascist pasts. In other words, when it comes to questions of distancing, the ÖVP should put its own house in order.
Of course, there are many aspects of the history of actually existing socialism that we as communists and Marxists have to discuss. But we don’t have to do this at the behest of the ÖVP, and especially through the lens which they view history.
This anti-communist gambit by the ÖVP was never a topic of discussion at any of our information stands. I think it probably went largely unnoticed by the general population, because quite a few people already have a very concrete connection to the KPÖ — either they know one of us, or they see us on the street, or they know that we’re the reason the tenants’ hotline exists. These things are far more important to people.
AB So far, the KPÖ’s success in Graz has not been replicated in other cities in Austria. But do you think that a national or even international political movement can be built up through municipal politics?
RK Naturally, we don’t preach socialism in one city or something like a municipal transition to socialism. But in general, I am convinced that left-wing politics needs to be developed from below. And that means establishing roots in at the level of the municipality, or even the shop floor, and being in constant contact with people. It’s important to engage in areas where you can show concretely that you’re a useful force. And workers’ parties can learn a lot from this kind of engagement.
In recent decades, the Left may have neglected this insight somewhat. People have thought we have the sophisticated texts, we have the volumes of Marx and Engels and Lenin, and with these we will be able to deal with the world. But only through constant exchange with people can you find out where the real problems are. If you and your comrades want to work together to change and improve people’s conditions, this knowledge is central.
There are various examples of successful left-wing politics on the municipal or shop-floor level — for example, in Alentejo in Portugal, where there are communities that have been administered by the Portuguese Communist Party since the 1974 Carnation Revolution, or the [Communist-affiliated trade union organization] PAME in Greece.
An exciting new development is the success of the Workers’ Party of Belgium. On the basis of their long-standing roots in shop-floor organizing, this party managed to become a force in municipal politics before making the big leap onto the national stage in 2019. This achievement is really quite impressive. But it was also developed on a small scale. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without local roots.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Krotzer is a Communist Party member of Graz’s city senate, where he is responsible for the Graz Department of Health and Caregiving division of the Department of Social Services. ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Adam Baltner is a teacher and translator in Vienna, Austria. He is an editor at mosaik-blog.at.
Members and supporters of the Left Party (Die Linke) react at the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus after the publication of the first results in the 2021 federal election, in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Die Linke members were disappointed in the party’s vote totals, but celebrated a reported win in a referendum to expropriate Berlin apartments from landlords. | Jan Woitas / dpa via AP
The center-left candidate fighting to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor declared that his Social Democratic Party (SPD) intends to forge a “social-ecological-liberal coalition” after coming in first in Sunday’s election. With 25.7%, the SPD beat the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), currently in power, which garnered 24.1%, its worst showing in the 70-year history of the party.
The Greens received their biggest vote ever, with 14.8% of the vote and the Left Party (Die Linke) came in with 4.9%, meaning that center-left and left parties bested the CDU and its Bavarian Christian Social Union partners by almost a 2-1 margin.
In the new Bundestag, the breakdown for the parties will be 206 for the SPD, 196 for the CDU/CSU, 118 for the Greens, 83 for the ultra-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), and 39 for Die Linke (the Left Party).
“The voters have made themselves very clear,” Olaf Scholz, the SPD leader, said at a press conference Monday morning. He declared that his center-left party, the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) had all picked up significant numbers of new votes, while the conservative CDU suffered a loss in support of almost nine percentage points.
“And that’s why we have a visible mandate that the citizens of this country have formulated,” said Scholz, who is vice-chancellor in the outgoing government where his party was the junior party to the CDU in a so-called “Grand Coalition.” The FDP, which Scholz described as “liberal,” is, in fact, however, a largely pro-business party.
The Greens can’t automatically be counted on to hook up with the Social Democrats in a coalition, however. There are some sections of the party that can be characterized as solidly left-wing, but there are also sections on the right that have made alliances with big business in some parts of Germany.
The Greens have already agreed to hold preliminary talks with the FDP. Their vote percentage, 14.8%, combined with the FDP’s 11.5%, puts them slightly ahead of both the SPD and the CDU. When those talks finish, however, they will, of course, have to begin discussions with the other parties to come up with a majority that can rule.
A so-called “traffic light” power-sharing deal, nicknamed such because of the parties’ colors—SPD (red), FDP (yellow), Greens (green)—is just one possibility, however. The latter two parties could theoretically lend their support to a so-called “Jamaica coalition” with the CDU, led by its chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet. The CDU’s party color is black so it would be a black-yellow-green coalition, the colors of the Jamaican flag.
Laschet, the CDU leader, seemed to take a page from Donald Trump’s book when he did not concede on election night and instead announced that he was doing “everything possible” to form and lead a new government. At that time, the vote totals for the CDU and SPD were nearly identical.
But the SPD’s lead increased overnight as more mail-in votes were counted, and it moved almost two points ahead of the CDU. That, plus the fact that the media blasted out the news that the CDU had garnered its lowest vote ever, forced Laschet, still refusing to cede, to be a bit more modest by Monday morning. He ignored, however, the fact that parties constituting the center and the left far outpolled his center-right coalition.
While the result of the vote “cannot, must not, and won’t satisfy the [Christian Democratic] Union,” the CDU leader said at a press conference, it did not yield a government mandate for either of the largest parties.
Huge numbers of German voters, contrary to his claim, turned out to demand change. They expressed anger about government inaction on climate change, for example. Some 200 Germans died in floods recently in the western part of the country, floods widely attributed to climate change.
The Laschet analysis that Germans don’t want change is also being taken up by much of the press here in the U.S—an analysis challenged, however, by many in Germany, including the mainstream media there.
On the mainstream Bild newspaper’s television station, commentator Paul Ronheimer said Laschet was “living in a different reality.” Even several conservative politicians who had backed Laschet were already, by Monday, distancing themselves from him.
“Second place cannot be construed to amount to a mandate to form the next government,” tweeted Markus Söder, the Bavarian state premier whom many conservatives had wanted to see run for the top job in Laschet’s stead. At a press conference, the leader of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, and part of its ruling coalition, called the vote a “disappointing result” and a “defeat that cannot be sugarcoated.”
The extreme-right Alternative for Germany party also lost votes, dropping to 10% from its previous 14%.
The Left Party (Die Linke) lost votes, too, eking out only 4.9%. German election rules require a party to beat a 5% nationwide threshold or win at least three seats outright to secure a place in parliament. By doing the latter, the Left Party was able to take a total of 39 seats in the Bundestag.
In some ways, it was Left Party’s successes that helped reduce its totals. Its biggest losses came in Berlin, ironically, where it had successfully spearheaded a campaign to freeze rents for five years and reportedly won a referendum on Sunday that expropriate thousands of apartments from big German real estate conglomerates like Deutsche Wohnen and turn them into social housing.
In Berlin, the Left Party is part of a ruling red-red-green coalition of the SPD, itself, and the Greens. The SPD, which leads that coalition, campaigned by bragging how it was responsible for winning the freeze, even though it was the Left Party that did most of the work to build public support and win it.
The SPD reaped the reward with big gains in Berlin, while the Left Party lost votes. Early results suggest it was another case of left-wing parties and Communists not getting the credit for their policies and work when they enter coalitions with center forces. If things don’t work out, however, they often get the blame.
Further details and analysis on the German elections and their expected impact around the world will appear in the pages of People’s World in the coming days, including from Victor Grossman, our correspondent in Berlin.
Author: John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union’s campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
Presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba and Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador, Mexico | Photo: Twitter/@GerardoArreola
The independence of Mexico and of Cuba, got a big hearing in Mexico City on September 16. On that day in 1810, in Dolores, Mexico, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo called upon parishioners to join him in rebelling against Spain’s viceregal government. Mexico finally gained independence in 1821. Every year, at 11 PM on September 15, and on September 16, Mexicans and their presidents pay homage to Hidalgo’s iconic Cry of Dolores (Grito de Dolores).
This year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commemorating that important day, had a surprising guest. Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel was at his side and they both spoke. Shared goals and strong friendship were evident. The extraordinary encounter may portend new substance and heightened commitment for efforts to free Cuba, at long last, from aggressive U.S. interference with Cuba’s sovereignty.
The Cuban president later joined president López Obrador in reviewing Mexican armed forces assembled in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s central plaza. No visiting foreign president had ever done so.
Excerpts of their remarks appear below. What they actually said may more readily communicate concepts, reasoning, convictions, and deep feelings than would have been the case with summarization. The object here is to enhance appreciation of the nature and strength of the two nations’ friendship now and into the future.
To begin: President López Obrador observes that “[Hidalgo] who initiated independence matters more to Mexicans than Iturbide, who consummated it. The priest defended the common people while the royalist general represented the higher-ups … [But] his adversaries never forgave [Hidalgo’s] audacity in wanting to make poor people the equals of the most favored classes.”
“We Mexicans.” he adds, “feel pride in this hero and others, because here, like nowhere else, the independence movement did not begin by simply reaccommodating with the power elite, or act solely through nationalist feelings, but it was the fruit of a craving for justice and freedom. Indeed, the call for liberty and justice preceded the call for political independence.”
López Obrador turns to Cuba:
“Today we remember that heroic deed [of Hidalgo] and we celebrate it with the participation of the President of Cuba. He represents a people who resolved, like few others in the world, to defend with dignity their right to live free and Independent, without allowing the interference of any foreign power in their internal affairs. I have already said and I repeat: we may or may not agree with the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s government, but to have resisted 62 years without surrender is a historical feat, undoubtedly.
“I believe, therefore, that through their struggle in defense of their country’s sovereignty, the people of Cuba deserve a prize for dignity. That island has to be considered as the new Numantia for its example of resistance. And I think for the same reason that the country has to be declared a patrimony of humanity. Now I only add that the government I represent respectfully calls upon the government of the United States to raise its blockade against Cuba, because no state has a right to subjugate another people, or another country. … ”
(Numantia was a hill fortress in northern Spain contested by Roman soldiers and the native Spaniards between 154 B.C. and 133 B.C. The latter did not surrender. Finally, Roman general Scipio Aemilianus and 60,000 soldiers surrounded the fortress with entrenchments. After 15 months, all 6000-8000 Iberian soldiers inside were dead of starvation.)
The Mexican president continues: “I say with complete frankness: It looks very bad that the U.S. government uses the blockade to hurt the people of Cuba with the purpose of having them be forced by necessity to confront their own government. If this perverse strategy achieves success – something that doesn’t appear likely given the dignity we referred to – it would be a Pyrrhic victory, a vile and scoundrelly one. A stain like that is not washed away by all the water of the seas.
“Let President Biden, who possess much political sensitivity, take a wider view and put an end, for always, to the politics of grievances against Cuba. In the search for reconciliation, he must also help the U.S. Cuban community and put aside electoral and partisan issues …It’s a time of brotherhood and not of confrontation. As Jose Martí pointed out: “to avoid shock, we rely upon exquisite political tact that derives from the majesty of disinterest and the rule of love.”
President Miguel Díaz-Canel speaks:
“Among all the brothers Our America gave to us, Mexico counts for Cuba as one of the dearest ones, for many reasons. The affection that unites our lands begins with amazement at its diverse and deep traces in the literature and history of America.” Diaz Canel cites Cuban authors José María Heredia and particularly José Martí. He reads Martí’s portrayal of Hidalgo.
Díaz-Canel remarks that, “Through its characteristics, the independence process in Mexico … showed a remarkable component of social demands, on behalf of indigenous peoples especially. It differed in that way from other processes typical of the era of independence struggles. Without question, its impact on the freedom and anti-colonialist struggles of our region, particularly in Cuba, was extraordinary.”
He points out that Mexicans joined Cuba’s first War for Independence from Spain (1868-1878) that Mexico extended recognition to that leader’s insurgent government. He mentions Cubans fighting with Mexicans in their wars against Texan Anglos and U.S. invaders in 1846-1848. Díaz-Canel refers to Martí, who “joined our two nations eternally in all his work, but especially in letters to his great Mexican friend Manuel Mercado.”
On the eve of Cuba’s Second War for Independence (1895-1898), Martí communicated to Mercado his idea of “Using the independence of Cuba to stop the United States in time from extending throughout the Antilles and falling with even more force upon our American lands.”
Díaz-Canel mentions the murder in Mexico City by Cuba’s Machado dictatorship of the young Cuban Communist leader Julio Antonio Mella in 1929. He praises Mexicans’ assistance to preparations there for the Granma expedition led by Fidel Castro in 1956. And, recalls the Cuban president, “faithful to its best traditions, Mexico was the only country in Latin America that did not break relations with Cuba when we were expelled by the OAS by imperial mandate.”
Díaz-Canel emphasizes that, “Mexico’s solidarity with Cuba has awakened in our people a greater admiration and the deepest gratitude … the decision to invite us has an immeasurably greater value, at a time when we are suffering the onslaught of a multidimensional war, with a criminal blockade, opportunistically intensified.” Because we are “under fire in a total war …Cuba will always remember your expressions of support, your permanent demand for the lifting of the blockade and for the annual United Nations vote to be converted into concrete deeds.”.
The Mexican-Cuban alliance has value for Cuba. Mexico’s government has a U.S. ear, if only because disruption of amicable U.S.-Mexican relations might significantly destabilize aspects of life in the United States. Additionally, Mexico does provide material aid to Cuba and has the potential for promoting support for Cuba throughout her Latin America.
An analyst writing for Almayadeen.net offers perspective: “Mexico, during López Obrador’s presidency, has begun a process of winning back its regional influence… The U.S. – Cuba conflict is another relevant factor in Mexico’s position … [Already] documented is the mutual love between the Mexican and Cuban peoples … [Therefore,] the building of a new relation of the region with and Washington cannot exclude Havana, and on that López Obrador has been strong.”
Cuba’s friendship with Mexico hardly matches the importance of its alliance with the Soviet Bloc. Material aid from that source helped assure the revolutionary government’s survival. Soviet military might and worldwide influence discouraged U.S. excesses in regard to Cuba. But activated friendship with Mexico now may add tangible benefits for Cuba’s cause that are lacking with other solidarity efforts, for example: pro-Cuba votes in the United Nations, hit-and-miss material aid, various solidarity statements, and assistance from NGO’s.
Meanwhile reality intrudes. In front of Cuba’s Mexico City Embassy on September 16, a few anti-government activists, having arrived from Cuba, tussled with Cubans living in Mexico who support their government. The Mexican media carried critiques of Díaz-Canel’s presence in Mexico that López Obrador’s own political opposition had generated.
More significantly, the entire region on September 18 missed a fragile opportunity of gaining some independence from U.S. domination. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional organization to which the United States and Canada do not belong, was holding a summit meeting in Mexico City that day, The CELAC group refused to consider a proposal put forth by President López Obrador and others that member states abandon the Organization of American States (OAS) or alter its functioning. The U.S. government is accused of using OAS as a tool for controlling the region.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
Héctor Colío Galindo, a militant communist and long-time cadre of the Communist Party of Mexico, has died of Covid-19 on September 21, his Party announced.
In a statement issued today, the Communist Party (PCM) bids farewell to comrade Héctor Colío Galindo.
Héctor Colío Galindo was Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Mexico in 1999-2000 and in 2001-2003. He was born on August 1, 1951 in Mexico City, and at the age of 17, in 1968, he began his militancy. As a communist youth leader, he was one of those responsible for the activity of the World Federation of Democratic Youth in Mexico, and as such one of the members of the International Organizing Committee of the XI World Festival of Youth and Students.
He was at the forefront of important student, peasant and popular struggles in the 1970s. He was a local Deputy of the state of Veracruz and Federal Deputy of the LIV Legislature (1988-1991), from where he opposed privatizations and structural adjustment policies against workers.
He stood out for his link with the port workers of Tampico and Veracruz, and in the last 20 years he stood out for his activity in defense of lands, territories and nature, confronting the mining-energy monopolies and the Federal Government.
Héctor Colío Galindo was among the main promoters of the reorganization of the Communist Party of Mexico from November 20, 1994, being part of the Central Committee from then until today, fulfilling his responsibilities with great conscience and optimism. As a communist cadre, he was trained in the cadre schools of the PSUA in the German Democratic Republic.
It was characterized by a firm defense of Marxism-Leninism and against the opportunist deviations that the Party suffered at times. He led the fight so that in the 2001 Congress the Party would recover democratic centralism as an organizing principle and the dictatorship of the proletariat as a basic programmatic objective. His consequent action contributed to the forging of the communist identity of the PCM in its reorganization process.
Once he ceased to be General Secretary of the Central Committee, he fulfilled all his responsibilities in the Central Committee, and its cell. He always insisted on the importance of communist youth and the constant promotion of youth cadres to the directives of the PCM.
Photo: Safiya Khalid campaigning for her 2019 race for Lewiston City Council. | Safiya Khalid, Facebook
In 2019 Safiya Khalid made history, becoming the first Somali-American woman ever elected to Lewiston’s City Council. Her groundbreaking accomplishment garnered national attention from CNN, Washington Post and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar— all of whom celebrated Khalid’s perseverance through a campaign that was marred by relentless Islamophobic attacks.
Days before Khalid’s 2019 election, local Facebook groups erupted with calls to “kill as many Muslims as possible” and stop Khalid by any means necessary. Some of that racial animus was carried over into Khalid’s two-year term on the council.
“Past racism and xenophobic attacks can never prepare you for more in the future, although throughout my years in politics, I’ve grown what you call a thick skin for such comments,” Khalid said. “There will be people who don’t support you and will be very vocal about it, but I’ve also learned there are more people who will support you and that’s what is keeping me going and fighting for my community.”
Despite Khalid’s strong grassroots support in Lewiston, she recently announced she will not run for re-election in 2021. Instead, Khalid plans on leveraging her political experience to help elect anti-racist candidates to local and state offices.
The former councilor hopes this effort will begin a generations-long process of unraveling systemic racism in Lewiston by building a local political infrastructure that reflects the demographics of an increasingly diverse city.
“Systemic racism exists within Lewiston and within all communities across our nation’s institutions, both public and private,” Khalid said. “For example, an Auburn city councilor recently made racist comments about ‘dark-colored people’ breaking laws in the South when speaking about an African American who served in a local Lewiston office.”
“Looking at hiring practices, there is a lack of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] employees, especially at the administrative level,” Khalid continued. “And I’ve repeatedly seen those in power and leadership positions tokenize BIPOC individuals. Getting rid of systemic racism in Lewiston will take generations, and it starts with policies that center racial equity and social justice.”
To reach that vision, Khalid needs candidates. And while she says her new political project will be publicly “brought to light soon,” criteria for those looking to run for local office are already being defined by Khalid and her team.
“Being anti-racist means being open-minded to changes,” Khalid said. “It means being committed to social, racial and justice equity while dismantling white supremacy and its role in our institutions.”
Khalid’s efforts to re-imagine Lewiston’s political institutions have already been met with scorn by some members of her own party. In July, she withdrew her candidacy to lead Lewiston’s chapter of the Democratic Party, which she has been vice-chair of for four years, due to what she described as “disrespectful, xenophobic, and racist” comments made by several Lewiston Democratic Party committee members.
“How Safiya was treated was appalling and disgraceful,” Kiernan Majerus-Collins, the outgoing Lewiston Democratic Party chair, told the Sun Journal. “The Democratic Party has a choice to make, whether it’s going to represent all voters in Lewiston, or only older, white people. As former chair, I’m completely convinced that it’s strategically correct and morally correct for the Lewiston party to embrace the full spectrum of voters in Lewiston, and that includes young, diverse leadership.”
Tom Reynolds, the Lewiston Democratic Party’s new chair, insists no racist comments were made towards Khalid during the July meeting. From his perspective, people suggesting so online were “spinning the truth.”
Reynolds acknowledged that there were “a couple of people” who made a reference to Hitler in response to statements made by Majerus-Collins. However, he said “nothing was directed at Safiya.”
“It was a very tense and uncomfortable thing. It was one of the most difficult meetings I’ve been a part of and witness to,” he said.
Khalid, however, said she has not been dissuaded from her mission. Rather, she said that pushback has further committed her to support like-minded activists in building a more inclusive, diverse and just local government.
“Our population in Lewiston will continue to diversify and we must adapt to changes in all sectors of our city,” Khalid said. “The administrative and leadership levels of our institutions must be representative and reflective of our community, meaning they are at least 30-40% BIPOC.”
“Public infrastructure facilities in recreation, afterschool programs and affordable housing must be supported, and invested in, so that the needs of all those living in our city are met,” Khalid concluded. “Our public officials must truly and honestly accept, and embrace, our diversity whether in age, income, and background. And they must reflect that understanding through the policies they support.”
Author: Nathan Bernard is a freelance writer and reporter living in Maine. His local stories have been featured in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, The Intercept, Business Insider, AV Club, Salon and CBS News.